Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: Gloves off to tackle abuse

8 comments
Chris Ashton.
Chris Ashton.

You wonder about some sportspeople. Former England football captain, Ipswich defender and Stoke manager Mick Mills is being taken to task for supposedly turning a blind eye to an initiation ceremony known as "The Glove", highlighting the weird psychology of such initiations.

Let's deal with the regrettable physiology of The Glove first. The perpetrator dons a goalkeeping glove, one finger of which has been adorned by heat cream. This is then introduced internally to the naked posterior of the unfortunate trainee. It produces a highly uncomfortable burning sensation.

Laugh? Couldn't eat our Cornish pasties. This dubious act - allegedly performed on a then 16-year-old trainee at Stoke City Football Club in 1986 - has had repercussions in a British court where Mills is said to have ignored the practice and others from Stoke are facing claims that they forced the initiation, also known as "The Finger". The action is a civil case for damages, brought by the teenage trainee 27 years later - claiming that the action caused him post-traumatic stress and depression. Mills and everyone from Stoke said to have been involved have denied everything and the former trainee has been accused of being in it only for the money.

One of the lawyers - Stoke City's barrister Nicholas Fewtrell (seeking to get the case thrown out) - said a "Pandora's Box" would be opened if the trainee was allowed to launch a full civil prosecution.

"If one is taking the lid off Pandora's Box, it is not likely to be an isolated event," Fewtrell said, quoted in the Independent. "... the practice of punishments, pranks, initiations will have been common at clubs in all sorts across the working community. We know that there are other potential claims in the wings and that other witnesses are set to jump on the bandwagon."

He said it would be wrong to apply 21st century values about footballers' behaviour to the 1980s: "Are we going to start trying to put right what was not probably perceived as wrong, 20, 30 or 40 years ago? There has been a change in social attitudes."

Oh yeah? For all those who think these are outmoded incidents born of brainless blokes and ignorance from nearly 30 years ago, read this from the BBC: "... We were told to prepare "bucket juice" - an intoxicating mixture of beer, spirits, alcopops and wine. We were given Oxo cubes to suck as we were paraded, singing and chanting, around the neighbourhood.

"We ended up in a dark basement where raw fish was stuffed down our bras and we were told to eat a nausea-inducing mixture of cat food, eggs and breakfast cereal topped with Bovril, washed down with copious amounts of "bucket juice". After a lot of vomiting, we were taken upstairs to a car park and pelted with flour, washing-up liquid and eggs, before being led to our final destination, a local nightclub. Our last challenge was to eat the fish out of our bras. It's also the last thing I remember, owing to the sheer amount of alcohol I had consumed."

The speaker was a young woman seeking to play for a university hockey team in 2008.

Why on earth does anyone submit himself or herself to this stuff? The answer most commonly supplied is that it is a rite of passage; an invitation to join their fellows in a society bonded by common experience and hardships; it harks back to human rituals down the ages - marking passage into manhood or adulthood.

Hooey. The main reason for such rituals is one of hierarchy - the established order sustaining itself and ensuring that new arrivals understand the status quo. Yet there is no denying the power of such rituals. Time and again you see photographs of initiates covered in blood, vomit or worse, grinning at the camera, delighted to have passed the test - never mind the humiliation.

I can remember arriving at my high school as a new third former, as we were then. When we emerged from our first assembly, we found a grinning crowd of older boys. They formed themselves into large circles, linking arms, herding alarmed boys into the circle - where they received a good kicking. Fast forward 12 months, and there we were - the kickers enjoying not being the kickees. It's the power of peer pressure; the psychology of ascension.

There are other, more subtle forms of initiation in sport. I was once selected for the Auckland B rugby team. I turned up at Eden Park for training. When I entered the changing room, no one greeted me. I was completely ignored. Nothing. I changed, waiting for someone to come over. Nope. Then I realised - they were expecting me; they were just reinforcing their status through silence. You have done nothing, you are here but we do not yet salute you.

That's how it used to be with sports teams (things have changed since those days). Yet sport still provides the unusual situation of throwing together incumbents with those who will, one day, take their positions. In the professional age, the pendulum has swung more to ensuring the longevity of the team, rather than just the individuals who comprise it. The Glove was described in court as a sexual assault. It's usually not; it's about power.

There are universities, sports clubs and other institutions where this kind of thing still happens. There have been deaths in the UK and US, and England rugby winger Chris Ashton's revelation that his initiation into the national team meant he had to sink 21 drinks in a short time shows how jolly japes can potentially turn into alcohol poisoning and worse.

In the US last year, a frat student died and, in Illinois, five high school students were charged with felony sexual assault and battery after allegedly digitally sodomising three victims in the basketball and football teams. Still think 1986 is a long time ago?

Even if Fewtrell is right and some attitudes have changed, there should still be no statute of limitations on abuse.

- Herald on Sunday

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 23 Jul 2014 19:39:40 Processing Time: 461ms